If you have passed by the Sierra Madre Playhouse on a recent evening, you are likely to hear the magnificent sounds of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Ruddigore” bursting forth. This is the Playhouse’s second production from the Victorian Era’s favorite musical partnership that created fourteen comic operas with music that remain perennial favorites today.
The director, Eugene J. Hutchins, selected the opera “Ruddigore” written in 1887 to play during the Halloween season with its tale of the wicked ancestor and the device of a family curse and ghostly ancestors that step out of their portraits. Director Hutchins has created a conceptual framework of moving the story from Victorian England to mid-Century America, specifically through the clichés of the film genres spanning Truman’s Election and the end of Camelot.
These included now classic B horror movies by Roger Corman, teen angst films such as “Rebel Without A Cause” and light comedies such as the “Gidget” series. In doing so, the audience is introduced to the characters struggling with their destiny, the emotional tumult of questioning conventions during a time, like Great Britain during the Age of Victoria, when the United States was without peer.
Contralto Michelle Holmes plays Dame Hannah in “Ruddigore”. She is not new to the Sierra Madre stage having played Dame Carruthers in last year’s “The Yeomen of the Guard”.
She shared with me her ongoing love for Gilbert & Sullivan and how she developed the feisty character of Dame Hannah: “...’Ruddigore’ has been my favorite since I worked crew for it in college. I was thrilled to be cast [in the role] and then our director, Eugene J. Hutchins, came up with the brilliant idea of doing ‘Ruddigore’ as a 1950’s B horror movie.
Suddenly, Dame Hannah was now just Hannah, and she was ripe with possibilities. It seemed like every movie of that period had a middle-aged woman who was still attractive but losing her looks, and life or love or both had left her disappointed. So she ended up in every shot with a martini in her hand, still wanting to be desired and always drinking too much. Clare Trevor as Gaye Dawn in ‘Key Largo’ immediately came to mind. And as Hannah has to have life on stage for so much of ‘Ruddigore’ where she’s an observer, her big moments bookending the show at the beginning and end, a full and fun life was necessary.
So, this is where I am with Hannah, loving her music, falling in love with her character more each day, and having the confidence that I’m going out on stage knowing that I have the best costumes in the show!”
The show runs through Nov. 10 at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, so there are plenty of opportunities to experience “Ruddigore” for its lush music and play of Victorian mores, reexamined as a psychological thriller set in Morro Bay, California, as well as with all the ancestral ghosts, that makes for a Halloween treat. For further information go to http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org